With news about COVID-19 popping up by the hour, reading the day's headlines can leave your heart feeling heavy, but there is one good news story that should lift you up, mama (especially if you're an animal lover).
Pet shelters are seeing record numbers of adoptions right now as families are spending more time at home. Seriously, animal rescues are running out of adoptable dogs and that's amazing news.
Around the country, shelters are running out of adoptable dogs. This isn't just good news for the dogs who are finding forever homes, but also for the animals who will come after them. With the more adoptable animals now living with families, shelters that are now operating with reduced staff can concentrate on the sick or injured animals who need their attention, and keep spaces open for animals who may need to be surrendered or rescued because of the coronavirus.
"Shelter dogs are really winning in this entire coronavirus experience," Sarah Brasky, the founder and executive director of Foster Dogs Inc. in New York told the Associated Press. "It's a strange phenomenon because there was always interest in fostering and rescue but now it is exploding."
According to Lorie Chortyk, a spokesperson for the B.C. SPCA, the extra time people are spending at home right now does make this a good time to bond with a new pet. "Because when an animal comes into your home, it's a very new experience for them, as well as for you — so just having that time to play, to get to know their habits, to do a bit of training, if that's what's needed, is good," Chortyk told CBC News.
Animal advocates stress that families should only adopt right now if they will still have the time to be committed pet guardians when everyone goes back to school and work, but for families who were already planning on getting a dog eventually and can commit to one long-term, now really is an ideal time—for the dogs and for us.
"The medical research shows that animals can reduce our stress, reduce our blood pressure, and just really be a source of comfort to us," Chortyk explains. "So I think they can also give back to us at the time where we really do need that comfort more than ever."
She's right. According to Yale University, dogs can reduce our stress and make kids happier, kinder, gentler and more independent.
Dogs make parents + kids happy
It's the first benefit on the list and also the most obvious. Dogs just make us happy. Many dog owners report a mood boost from spending time with their pup and many parents have noticed how canine companions can boost a child's mood.
There's a lot of science to support this link between dogs and human happiness.
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners," and another, out of the University of Cambridge, found that kids get more satisfaction from their relationship with household pets (especially dogs) than with human siblings. Yet another found that “having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety."
According to Yale, the happiness kids feel around dogs is due to the hormone oxytocin (the same hormone thought to make mothers more responsive to their baby's cries). This hormone is known for playing a role in how we bond with each other and its release makes kids feel more social and cheerful.
Dogs reduce kids' anxiety
Studies suggest therapy dogs help pediatric cancer patients maintain stable blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels, and similar results have been seen in programs that see children who are reluctant or anxious readers read to dogs instead of people.
This is again, probably down to oxytocin, as "interacting with a friendly dog also reduces cortisol levels most likely through oxytocin release, which attenuates physiologic responses to stress," researchers note.
Dogs make kids more caring and independent
Many parents decide to get a pet to foster a sense of responsibility in their kids, but even when children are too young to be walking or feeding Fido themselves, research indicates that having a bond with a dog is doing them good, not by making them more responsible, but by making them more empathetic.
A preschooler is much too young to be “responsible" for a dog, but they can still enjoy the routine a dog's presence brings to a household and can do things like bring the leash to mom when it's time to go for a walk (maybe that's why studies suggest children from homes with a pet dog have higher levels of physical activity.)
According to Yale Medical, being responsible for a dog makes children feel proud, and that in turn leads them to take better care of themselves.
Dogs are good for kids' health
The impact a dog has on a child's health can start even before they are born. One study out of the University of Alberta suggests having a pet in the house during pregnancy and the first few months of a baby's life lowers their risks for developing allergies or struggling with obesity later in life and reduces the transmission of vaginal group B Strep (which causes pneumonia in newborns) during birth.
It basically comes down to gut bacteria. Dogs are dirty, but there's some good stuff in that dirt.
Having a dog to walk can motivate a family to get outside more, (which is good, because little humans need almost as much exercise as a dog).
Bottom line: If you always wanted a family dog now is a good time
If you were already thinking about getting a dog and know that keeping your pandemic companion for life is part of your plan, there's never been a better time to adopt a dog.
[A version of this post was originally published on November 29, 2017. It has been updated.]